Monday, March 30, 2020

Woody Allen Memoir anyone?



Woody Allen's Memoir Released, Denies Molesting Dylan Farrow ...

The little I've read about Allen's memoir Apropos of Nothing gives me further confirmation that brilliant artists are quite often awful people , and that one shouldn't expect a man or woman with extraordinary expressive gifts to be anything other than human when they aren't involved in their art. The characterizations I've read, quoted with glee with reviewers anxious to soil his name a little more, does indeed make appear to be an unseemly prick. 

I will leave it at that and trust that he is yet another artist I admire who likewise suffered the indignity of being human, too human, despite an element of extraordinary talent and achievement. At 84, I suspect Allen doesn't care what others think about he thinks of everybody else and expects his reputation as a genius film maker to outlive the predator allegations. It's certainly the case with Frank Sinatra, who survived the storm over Kitty Kelly's fantastically damning biography HIS WAY in 1986. Sinatra sued to stop publication but later dropped the suit, and the contents of the book revealed an ambitious , insecure , raging man gifted with a beautiful voice and attendant charisma who was in actual fact a monster. 

Thirty three years later, the Kelley book and the deeds it recounts are safely back in the shadows and the general view of Sinatra, his reputation, is a glorification of a legend, an artist, a genius, a true romantic, a profound American success story. At this stage of the game, Allen believes the same will be his fate, that his many successes as a film maker and humorist will outpace that gamier aspects of his life. Americans prefer to believe their legends.

RIFFING THROUGH THE MUDDLE



The 1976 Mahavishnu Orechestra release Inner Worlds is the one of the few of the many  John McLaughlin albums I have no use for. It seems a case that JM had a bunch of new guitar synth toys and had not yet figured out a way to make them remotely attractive in their modulations, and that he had to put a band together pronto with little rehearsal time. Especially the compositions, which recycle riffs from the previous two studio albums or spend time abruptly moving from tonal muddle-headedness, ersatz classicism, or the dreariest of vocal chorusing . The band was not ready for prime time, distressing considering the talent in the band, with Stu Goldberg (keyboards), Ralph Armstrong (bass) and Narada Michael Walden (drums); all these players are superb in executing the roles the sessions require of them, but no one shines here, which is a shame. 

See the source imageI saw this line up of musicians in 1974 for the tour supporting the orchestral Apocalypse album (another least-played disc in my JM collection) with the addition of Jean Luc Ponty (violin) and Gayle Moran (keyboards), and experienced a wholesale blitzkrieg of fusion brilliance. It was a refreshing reminder how often the musicians achieve  those levels of ad lib brilliance in live settings, especially from a studio effort that collapsed under it’s own portentous weight. This is a note that McLaughlin is a worth composer of small ensemble composition, but lacked, at least at the time, the where with all to score a piece for full orchestra.  

 None of that was evident on the 1976 release Inner World, and even JM seemed overwhelmed by all the noise that resulted. Fortunately for the world, McLaughlin is one who liked to move from style to style has remained an inspiring artist. To this day, decades after he first rattled my tooth fillings, it still takes one of his guitar solos to put me in touch with that instinct that wants to transform rage and fury into a heady, fast thinking lyricism. He has been that brilliant.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

finding good music

Image result for Miles Davis and Sonny Stitt
In the seventies, while a young man appropriately bored with the slamming two-dimensional dynamics of late-period jazz-rock (which had morphed into a stylized arena of tick-rock riffing termed "fusion" that was monotony incarnate), I ventured forth into older jazz forms, bop, swing, big and, Ellington, Davis, Mingus, people who swung over unpredictable tempos and fantastic chords. It was a love affair that never hasn't stopped yet. Curiously, though, I formed jazzbo attitudes about artists I hadn't heard, a phenomenon not uncommon among some of us desperate for a hip reputation. You followed the herd-thinking. What I heard was that alto saxophonist Sonny Stitt was nothing but a low down Charlie Parker imitator, technically adept and adroit in extemporizing over a 6/8 time breakdown of a popular tune, but he was a technician only, without a soul. I went with that for years and dug into my Miles Davis phase, a long binge over a the late eighties and nineties on as Much MD as I could afford, everything from what he'd done as a sideman with Bird and through his various labels as band leader, from the hard bop session he'd done, through the modal experiments and into the blistering jazz-rock he created., noting , as well, the history of his saxophone players, a fine fettle of reed geniuses: George Coleman,Cannonball Adderley,Gerry Mulligan,John Coletrane, Wayne Shorter, Sam Rivers, Dave Leibman. Nothing but the best for Miles. 

I was one of those who scoured the used CD bins, looking for my preferred artists and one day, lo! I came across a record titled "Walkin':A Jazz Hour With Miles Davis" on released on the now-defunct economy label Laserlight. Featuring a previously unavailable live performance in Europe in the Fifties, this was not the classic earlier studio album "Walkin'" (a one of MDs many masterpieces) , but so what, it was Davis live and on sale. Reading the personal, all seemed worth the purchase despite the misdirection of the title, as it highlighted, worthies like pianist Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers on drums, Jimmy Cobb on drums, on saxophone...Sonny Stitt?? The plagiarist , the rip off artist, the Parker wannabe? The man I relegated to the minor leagues without endeavoring to hear what he played like? With Miles? 

This wasn't so earth shaking a revelation as I might want to make it sound and , of course, I didn't ask myself that sequence of disbelieving questions presented in incomplete sentences. I was curious and bough the record. I was more than pleasantly pleased with the hard bop brilliance of the band--Miles Davis of this period is essentially flawless as he applies to his muted, modulated, middle register approach to the hard charging changes this fine band challenges him with--and came to the conclusion that Sonny Stiff had been given the short shrift as a musician. The resemblance to Parker are there, undeniable, and it's understandable how jazz snobs of the time, wanting to consecrate jazz as America's art music in opposition to the tradition of European classicism and establish both canon and criteria for our best gift to the world, would deride particular players, diminish them in stature without fair estimation in an effort to create standards for an emerging aesthetics. 

Understandable and unfair, because what I discovered was a musician of envious fluidity and lyric invention within his scope as an improviser who could negotiate steeple-chase tempos and obstacle course chord progressions with precision and yet never, or at least rarely lose a song's melodic nuance ; for all the high-velocity bravura bop-related jazz musicians are known for, Stitt had a ribbony, sweetly undulating method of teasing notes and shading their sounded presence with variations within the pitch, a legacy from the blues that maintains a vocal quality, a sharp note of surprise as the solo unfolds. 

Stitt, however, wasn't a soulless technician.Whatever debt he owed to Charlie Parker is nearly besides the point; the style is something Stitt took possession and made it his means to express something that, in itself, was beyond race, economics and the general ugliness mere existence weights us with; it is simply beautiful and exciting music made by a musician who deserves to be reexamined for his best recorded moments.

Monday, March 2, 2020

IMMIGRATION COMES TO A FULL BOYLE

THE TORTILLA CURTAIN
a novel by T.C.Boyle
Culture clash is the theme in Tortilla Curtain, and leave it TC Boyle to go beyond the abstract curtain of statistics, policy wonkery and three-hankie tragedy mongering and provide the reader instead with a contradiction that is harshly comic; well off Southern Californians, nominally liberal in their politics, are forced to deal with an illegal couple who are in the most dire situations. California is the Big Blue state of liberal leaning, fat with left-leaning delegates and electoral votes, and with a state legislature that manages the most progressive state laws extant in our union; given that this over populated state is filled with liberals and progressives of a particularly privileged sort, the ones who offer not deeds but coin and bumper sticker cliche, we have a target rich environment for Boyle's satire. Plainly, what would happen if your memorized principles slam up against the very problem you've paid lip service to solving? It works to the degree in that the suburban pair preferred to have their causes at several layers of removal , preferring safe memberships in organizations forever raising money for non controversial progressive causes; a check or a credit card donation was the exercise of their social responsibility, an acceptable penance for what is largely a consumerist lifestyle. Boyle does not sugar coat, euphemise nor glorify the awful trials and fate of the Mexican couple that had stolen over the border looking for a better life. Against a backdrop of a terrain of sunshine, opulence and the saturation of Conspicuous Consumption, Boyle tenders life at the margins, at the edges of glittering downtowns and cascading suburbs.Boyle is stinging and blunt in the way he describes the ordeals economic desperation that drives good people, and he is unsparing at offering up a priceless, painfully recognizable banter of a privileged psychology that inspects the hard facts of injustice and responds by trying to worm their way out of any sense of responsibility for others less well endowed.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

A POEM BY EDISON JENNINGS


Did you notice, slipping through middle age and advancing , year by year, to the upper end of your sixth decade, that you linger more at the places where things you remember used to be? The house where you were born that is now a strip mall of mostly empty storefronts,save for the ubiquitous taco shop and nail gallery? The stump that used to be the large oak under whose canopy you first dared kiss your future wife and she didn't slap you and you knew things would be alright at least for a little while? Have you railed against the shape the traffic signs that no longer signal what they're about in a pattern you understood without having to look up? For me, it was aromas I missed, the furniture that remains in the corner of the room where someone sat for hours, months, years, writing papers, reading novels, talking on the phone, or it was the shape of the sheets sometimes when I am back from my assignments and the twists and and layered caverns of bed sheets , pillows plush blankets puts smack dab in the center of many an amorous wrestling match, me, pinned as usual, taking as well as I could give. 
It's an age where the universe we inhabit becomes one big scrap book, the long walk we take through memory as the years scurry past faster than they used to. Edison Jenning's short, casually addressed lyric "Bouquet", seems one of those journeys in the time machine --something so basic, even inconsequential as making yourself comfortable in a familiar  becomes, instead, the impetus for the poet to recollect even the smaller, seemingly duller things about a lover , her aromas, her scent, the way her body shapes the bed covers . I rather like this poem, admire it greatly, in fact, because of the simplicity and directness of Jenning's voice, a mid section of private message, love letter, or just talking to one, thinking half sentences of references that convey the yearnings of what words cannot adequately convey, the precise feeling one has when rapt with profound yearning to be with someone who is absent.  
We observe a man in simple ritual, sniffing about, unashamedly, seeking a reminder of the the unsaid issue here, that being alive is more than going through the paces. This is not an argument is making, of course, as he is only talking , briefly ruminating on a moment when he broke with the routine of merely gettng ready for the next task and sought something private and special for him. It is, though, a message that rests not far under the surface of the poet's wonderfully sketchy, chatty details: we are human and we have things on our mind that are not open for discussion, wonderful things that make being alive the best hand we've ever been dealt. 

Bouquet
When you’re away, I sleep on your side of the bedand smell the sheets where the weave is richest
with your scent—bath-damp hair, armpits, feet,
the alchemic reminders of your sex.
Call me, won’t you? Call me what you will:
pillow-sniffer, linen-lecher, truffle-nosing swine,
or better yet, a drowsy drunk who smells
the empty bottle’s cork to tease the tongue
and taste again the flower in the wine.
-                                         -Edison Jennings

Monday, December 23, 2019

WE WILL NOT COWER BEFORE KAUR



There was a time not long ago when I'd write an easily composed 1000 or so word diatribe eviscerating mediocre poets, which is to say poet tasters I eccentrically considered subpar, egocentric without compensating genius, bombastic without ballast, cryptic without elegance, or elegant without grit.The truth of the matter is that it's nearly easier to write, with verve, negative reviews than to write positive notices for those bards I actually enjoyed. Of course, former pleasures become burdens and for the last few years my talent for impaling the poetically inept bored me to something less than a puny yelp. There are too many rank poets to bother with; I am outnumbered and outgunned.What does raise my hackles a bit these days are generous essays by bright writers extolling the virtues of the god-awfullest scribe in our midst.  Perhaps I'd should mention as well that in those former times when I desired to be the scourge of half-baked versifying I was speaking too loudly for little insight to be heard;it's been my goal to tone down my rhetoric a few notches, although I cannot guarantee that I won't turn my amplifier up to the eleven mark yet again as tripe is served. 

A long piece by Rumaan Alam in the New Republic makes a case for the stick figure poetics of Canadian Instagram poet Rupi Kaur. Though softly insisting that her verse is not to his taste, he argues that there is validity in the kind of platform she is using, the self-obsessed imagery she posts to accompany many of her finicky line breaks, of her treating legitimate issues for women in such a way that reduces them to the most obvious sort of pandering. His article can be read hereOften there is a weird equivocation that goes on among those I ask if they think whether Kaur is any good. Not to generalize too broadly, but often they pause, clear their throat, and speak of her in terms that have no relation to the quality of her poems. Funny how we can agree that Rod McKuen, say, was an awful poet, and even some of us with strong feminist sympathies can admit that Erica Jong was a lackluster poet all this time, but when Kaur comes up in conversation she is handled with kid gloves. More power to her for using Instagram to get readers. It's a shame this poetaster serves up the thinnest gruel to the unsuspecting and naive.Make no mistake, Kaur is an awful, even dreadful poet when one of her works is made to suffer a critical examination. Sometimes you're left wondering if she read poetry at all. What I see is a young scribbler whose accomplishment has been to professionalize the very real concerns of struggling against a male patriarchy that, alas, still runs things. She has over three million followers, I hear tell, she has books that sell in the millions, and she resonates with readers who have read her work who, in turn, do not seem interested in reading poets who exceed the typically brief magazine captions that are the true literary worth of most Instagram posts. 

This the poetry for the age of the anxiety cursed I Phone owner, a failure of the attention span on a massive level. The writer here believes that her lack of literary essentials is beside the point, and that her greatness is in matters metaphysical, which is too say, intangible and unprovable. I don't see what she does as in anyway mastering the beast of the internet and social media. Kaur has been consumed by it. Her role in this all, perhaps, is that she like the band playing music on the Titanic while it slips under an icy sea.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

NoMo PoMo

No photo description available.
The online journal The Chronicle Review does the worrying population of undecided readers a favor in their current edition with a forum entitled 
"The Birth, Death and Birth of Postmodernism".  It's a forum of ten contributors with varying stakes in the floating crap game that is the postmodern condition each attempts to essay forth on. What has happened since Fredric Jameson essay Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism”  from the New Left Review and the publication of Lyotard's groundswell book The Post Modern Condition , published years ago. Without recycling some notions of my own that are available elsewhere on this blog, we can say that the idea of postmodernism arose from the relativistic rigors--ironic, no?--of late  20th century philosophy , an ambiguous set of arguments and anti- arguments -that sought to undermine the whole notion of authority, meaning-giving, and power, essentially setting out to disrupt and overturn The Enlightenment (or advance it, depending on which seat you were sitting in some of the frothy debates of the time). It was a set of ambiguities that applied to every topic that would come to your tongue, something that would explain/unexplain everything, it was a term that joined the term "existential" as a go-to word when middlebrows, those readers who skim  or depend on book reviews for their book information, would drop like a  bag of nickles whenever they wanted to sound like the beneficiaries of a college education.  Like existential, as well, it soon enough became a buzz phrase that singled the presence of the middlebrow conversationalist who hadn't more than an in-lawish relationship to concepts, names and books under discussion. Using it seemed pretentious. It died, and academics moved to new ways to confound others and themselves. And yet the term now has currency again, it is reborn , revived, and more hated than it ever has been. So we have ten bright people giving an overview the history of postmodernism, its use in academica, how  misreading ruined political action.  The fascinatingly Chicken Little-ish Jordan Peterson was rummaging around his desk full of 80s tropes and happened upon the ever sexy and ambiguous phrase "Postmodernism" and set it aside for use as a strawman , a concept to blame for why everything has gone wrong with our culture. He tosses in the term 'Cultural Marxism" to sweeten his little vat of ill-tidings,and has handily reintroduced some basically obsolete terms back into the daily discussion of Big Ideas. It is , though, an old game blamed long and vainly, empty of real concepts. Peterson is a smart guy, a cunning debater, but what he's selling an empty box, basically repackaging the Fall From Grace , the expulsion for the Garden of Eden. His problem is that he and his fans presuppose there was a time when things made sense, were normal, were stable and adhering to the Way Things Ought to Be. Normal, stable for who? Post modernism had been a term that had currency once, was over used in all media sectors, and soon enough fell on the pile of academic words, like "existential" , that cannot not be used in any meaningful way to address our current mess, lest one provoke sneers , laughs, and parody. This is a little forum comprised of many interesting thinkers , writers, intellectuals who offer their view on the current state of what we mean or don't mean by the use f the term "postmodernism" and cultural Marxism, and the many infinite ways a useful term became garbled in a culture that cannot function without loud noise , friction and bull horned assholism.